NEW FOR THURSDAY: Union Deals Reached Between Ocean City, Employees; Details Unclear Until RatificationOCEAN CITY -- While all sides report tentative employee contract agree...READ MORE
County Criticized For Not Addressing Affordable Housing
After receiving a proclamation for National Fair Housing Month, Davis, the SHRB community affairs volunteer, took the opportunity to prod the Worcester County Commissioners.
'This county needs to move a little bit,' Davis said.
Other jurisdictions are moving forward with plans for affordable and workforce housing, from Berlin to Salisbury to Somerset County, he said.
Davis was a member of the workforce housing task force created a few years ago, which spent a year and a half working on the problem.
'We wrote a report and gave it to the County Commissioners,' said Davis, who added nothing came of it.
County Commissioner Louise Gulyas, a task force member, said there were no practical solutions put forward by the housing body.
'I don't feel the task force came up with workable solutions,' said Gulyas.
After the report was delivered, Davis said the commissioners put the report on the back burner.
'The first excuse was, the election's coming up, let's wait till the election's over,' he said.
Commissioner Linda Busick, newly elected this fall, did make workforce housing part of her campaign. After the presentation of the proclamation Tuesday, she told Davis she would work on it.
'Workforce housing and affordable housing are two separate issues but we need both,' Busick said.
One of the task force's recommendations was inclusionary zoning, which the commissioners rejected last week during discussions on updating the zoning code.
'I'm still a proponent of inclusionary zoning,' Busick said. 'I know there are difficulties in regulating, in the selection process.'
Other jurisdictions have successfully used inclusionary zoning, she said, adding that she would like to visit some of those jurisdictions and study their methods. The technical difficulties can be hammered out, she said.
Gulyas, who did not attend the work session for health reasons, disagreed.
'I've never felt it was the answer,' she said.
The commissioners directed the staff, during the zoning code discussion, to look at alternate ways to encourage workforce housing.
'We're going to have to come up with some kind of ordinance or law or zoning program where developers will have to do the affordable housing first,' Gulyas said.
The real problem, according to Davis, is the lack of public outcry.
'There's no pressure or demand by the people that they pay attention,' he said. 'There's no lobbying for affordable housing.'
Worcester County offers some housing help through its economic development office. That office administers state and federal loan programs for home repair and occasionally replacement for lower income homeowners, as well as some low interest loan programs for certain buyers, said Economic Development Director Jerry Redden.
'To help Worcester Countians get more affordable housing is absolutely something we're very interested in,' said Redden. 'I put it as a very high priority.'
The commissioners expressed some concern this week that people are not as aware of those options as they might be.
'We need to get the word out on these different programs,' said Commissioner Judy Boggs. 'We talk about affordable housing. A lot of people are looking to be homeowners.'
In the past, Davis has suggested that Worcester County separate housing from the economic development department and create a new entity to concentrate on housing resources, but that has not happened.
Arlene Page, former executive director of Worcester County Habitat for Humanity, agreed with Davis, saying that a housing administrator could act as mediator with all parties.
'The county can do more,' Page said. 'They need a housing guru.'
The trend in the housing dialogue with county elected officials is to leave housing to the non-profits, Davis said.
'That's ridiculous. Non-profits can't get any state or federal money without the jurisdiction they're in approving it,' said Davis.
The Cannery Village workforce housing project in Berlin has received grant funds through the town, for example.
Workforce housing is not all that's needed. Affordable housing, geared for those lower on the economic scale, appears to be a taboo subject, Davis said. Workforce housing is the only type on the table.
'That still doesn't address the backbone of our society, the laborers, the cabdrivers, the busboys,' Davis said.
Gulyas said there's no simple solution, but there are a variety of options, from zoning code requirement to using county land.
'Whether it's low income or work force, we need both,' said Gulyas.
Davis said he hopes to see the county step up to the plate on the matters at hand.'If they want to do it, they can do it,' Davis said. 'It's not even on the agenda.'